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If Davis Really Is a Goner, This Was Way to Go

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There were spills. Earl Watson and JaRon Rush crumbled to the Pauley Pavilion court Saturday afternoon, offering brief scares before getting up, much like the entire UCLA squad.

There were chills. The Bruins, though later insisting they were not genuinely worried, had their 21-point lead cut to eight in about six minutes of the second half before regrouping to beat Washington, 79-62, and clinch no worse than third place in the Pacific 10 Conference.

But mostly, there were thrills.

Baron Davis got an offensive foul in the first half for practically using the shoulders of Thalo Green, the Huskies’ 6-foot-6 forward, as a step ladder en route to a dunk that was disallowed, a turnover NBA scouts will gladly accept as trade for the display of explosiveness in the left knee.

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Davis used a highlight-reel, right-handed, barely-off-his-body behind-the-back dribble in the second half of what had again become a blowout and finished with a slam.

Davis threw down a ferocious windmill dunk a minute later, after Rush, also wide open with a clear path on the breakaway, gave the ball up in the name of proper theater.

Davis waved goodbye as he walked off the court.

At least for this season.

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It was the Bruins’ home finale for 1998-99 and either the finale, period, for their sophomore point guard or merely a brief farewell until the next Pauley game in November. That will be decided, Davis insisted again after No. 15 UCLA improved to 21-7 overall and 11-5 in conference, soon after its final tournament contest.

Considerable evidence on both sides only added to the guessing game that Davis loves--"He has a knack for the dramatics, for building up that anticipation,” Coach Steve Lavin said.

He’s staying: “He hasn’t really told us, but he’s dropped hints,” teammate and roommate Rico Hines said. “I can’t tell you what they are, but you can tell. And I think he’s coming back.”

Said Davis: “He knows me. He knows me. But it’s something I’ve got to sit down and talk about with my family.”

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He’s leaving: Davis, who could be the first point guard taken in the draft, though some teams still like Maryland’s Steve Francis, said he planned to savor the game because it might have been his last in Pauley. Then, holding his left hand high as he walked to the bench when Todd Ramasar was sent in to replace him with 45.1 seconds remaining, Davis hugged coaches and players on the sideline, and, with a white towel draped over his head, looked around to the cheering fans as he headed to the locker room after the final horn.

“If I do decide to go out,” he said, answering the obvious question before any reporter even needed to ask it, “that would have been a great way to go out.”

Because he was thinking it could have been the last time he left the floor as a Bruin.

“Sort of. Kind of,” Davis said. “I was really just absorbing everything. I haven’t made a decision. I’m nowhere close to a decision.”

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So that wasn’t a permanent wave goodbye?

“Nah,” he said.

Then he added: “If I do go, it was.”

Davis’ decision--possibly made in the future, possibly already made but being held inside in the name of buildup--provided the only long-standing drama of the afternoon. The student section chanted “Please stay, Baron!” before tipoff and “Two more years!” after his three-point play early in the second half and, finally “One more year!” after his 23-footer with 4:27 left. Had the game gone much longer, they might have been down to asking for an appearance in the Fairfield game, the 1999-2000 opener.

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Washington, shooting 39.6% and committing 29 turnovers, could only offer brief suspense.

The Huskies (16-11, 9-8) trailed by 14 points in the first half and then by 21, 55-34, with 11:24 remaining, but took advantage of poor UCLA shot selection and poor UCLA transition defense. Beating the Bruins downcourt for fastbreak dunks and three-pointers, Washington got within 59-51 with 5:46 to go, but no closer.

Said Rush, who had 12 points, 15 rebounds and six steals: “I wasn’t too worried. We just knew we had to pick it back up on defense. We knew we had to play ball again.”

Watson went out with 10:29 left after suffering a bruised left knee, but also after getting a game-high 18 points. Rush made it to the final 29.5 seconds, when, as he was coming down after going for a rebound, his head slammed against the shoulder of the Huskies’ Marlon Shelton.

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Rush was briefly knocked unconscious in the lane before getting up after a couple of minutes and woozily walking to the bench. But he said afterward that he was fine and would be ready for practice Monday.

Watson said he will play Thursday at Arizona State and Saturday at Arizona in the last games of the regular season, 100% or not.

BIG FINISH

Senior Ayuso helps USC keep NIT hopes alive with victory over Washington State. Page 7

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SWEET 16-0

Top-ranked Duke beats North Carolina by 20 on road to complete a perfect ACC season. Page 6

WAVES SURGE

Pepperdine rallies from an 11-point halftime deficit to beat USF and reach the WCC semifinals. Page 6

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UPSETTING

The No. 12 UCLA women watch Washington State charge past them in the final minutes. Page 7


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